Let’s face it, some things just seem to make life better, and cheese is most certainly one of them.
Cheese is one of those foods that just seems to go with virtually everything. As you know, pizza is arguably the ultimate cheat meal food, closely followed by a cheeseburger, a grilled cheese, and topped off with a slice of cheesecake.
As delicious as all of those foods are, for the most part, they’re incredibly unhealthy and bad for your health.
Cheese, in moderation, can be healthy and beneficial, yet there are some varieties that packed full of fat and sodium, which in excess, is a recipe for disaster.
To help ensure that your health doesn’t suffer and that you reap the benefits associated with healthy low fat low sodium cheese, we’ve compiled this handy guide.
First off, what is cheese and how is it made?
We know that cheese is a food that seemingly makes any food taste delicious. It is a rich, unctuous, gooey, savoury delight that can make seemingly any food taste so much better.
Got some nachos needing a lift? No problem, just melt some cheese over them. Fries dry and tasteless? Get some cheese on there! Sandwich missing that special something? Get some cheese on there.
As tasty as cheese is it’s not the healthiest, though there are options such as low sodium cheese for you to choose from.
We’ll get to the health risks associated with too much cheese and too much sodium, as well as exploring the fat content and looking at calories in fresh mozzarella cheese for example, a little later on, but first let’s look at what cheese is.
Cheese is a derivative of milk. Once the milk, usually from cows, has been obtained, it next needs to be separated into solids (curds) and liquid (whey).
The milk is gently heated, before starter cultures and rennet are added to the milk, causing it to split and separate.
These cultures added to the milk are bacteria which form lactic acid which convert lactose sugars in the milk into lactic acid. Once the milk changes, this chemical reaction causes the milk to split and separate.
The rennet speeds up this process and helps link up the proteins in the milk which causes it to fully split and form solid lumps known as cheese ‘curds’. (1)
Why so many different types of cheese?
Essentially, all types of cheese begin their lives in the same way, yet when you browse the cheese aisle at your local grocery store, you’ll see endless varieties of different cheeses.
We have cheddar, mature cheddar, mozzarella, edam, brie, stilton, red Leicester, parmesan, and many, many, many more, so why are they all so different?
Well, without going into too much detail, if you alter the amount of rennet that you add when making cheese, as well as adjusting the speed of the set, and the overall level of acidity of the cheese, this will all help determine what type of cheese you make.
What are the risks of excessive sodium intakes?
As we’ve mentioned a few times in passing, most varieties of cheese are not only high in fat, they’re also high in sodium, which can be very detrimental to your health.
The good news is that there are low fat low sodium cheese options to choose from, but why is it important to choose these types of cheese in the first place?
- Cardiovascular disease
- Increased risk of heart attack
- Increased risk of stroke
- Renal issues
- Risk of kidney stones
- Increased risk of cancer
- And more…
What are the risks of too much cheese?
Cheese is a food with a reputation for being unhealthy, due largely to the fact that most varieties are high in fats, including unhealthy fats, plus they also contain excessive amounts of sodium. (4) (5)
Here are a few potential dangers associated with eating too much cheese on a regular basis:
Heartburn and indigestion
If you’ve ever experienced indigestion, heartburn, or acid reflux, you’ll know how painful the conditions can be.
Many people that eat cheese often find themselves suffering with these very issues, likely due to the fact that they struggle to digest and breakdown the lactose sugars found in the cheese.
To make matters worse, this can also lead to gastrointestinal issues including gas and bloating.
Rich in saturated fats
Okay, some of the fats found in cheese are good fats, and whilst saturated fats in moderation can also be beneficial, for the most part, too many of them can be very bad for your health.
Cheese contains saturated fats, which can increase your bad LDL cholesterol levels that can cause fatty deposits and blockages in your arteries. As these fatty deposits are left to accumulate, as they grow larger in the arteries, they can block them completely and put you at risk of a heart attack, stroke, or cardiovascular disease.
People suffering with cardiovascular issues should not consume too much fatty cheese for these very reasons.
Increases blood pressure
Another risk associated with excess cheese consumption is hypertension.
Today we’re looking at low fat low sodium cheese and healthy cheese options, and a big reason for why this is, is that excess cheese consumption can increase your blood pressure because of the sodium it contains.
Sodium increases blood pressure, and if your blood pressure becomes elevated beyond normal ranges, you’ll be at risk of hypertension, aka high blood pressure.
Hypertension can damage your kidneys, it can damage your arteries and blood vessels, it can weaken your heart, it can lead to heart disease, it can cause heart attacks, and a whole lot more besides.
How much sodium per day should we consume?
As we’re looking at low sodium cheese a little later on, in this next section we’re going to take a look at precisely how much sodium we should consume on a daily basis.
We now know that excessive sodium intakes can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and can elevate your blood pressure, but does this mean that we need to avoid sodium completely?
No, it does not.
As per the AHA (American Heart Association) we should be consuming a max total daily intake of 2,300mg of sodium each day. Ideally, however, we should try to keep this at around 1500mg per day.
The typical Western diet contains foods rich in sodium, so cutting back on the amount of sodium you consume is vital, especially considering the fact that, each year, more people die from heart disease than any other disease or illness in the world.
There is a common misconception that salt itself is sodium, but that isn’t the case. In reality, over 70% of the sodium we consume comes from pre-packaged convenience foods, rather than the salt shaker.
Worryingly, experts have found that the average person consumes over 3,400mg of sodium per day, which is far more than we should be taking in. In fact, experts consider this to be one of the main reasons why heart disease is the world’s number 1 killer. (6) (7) (8)
Sodium-related terms to look out for on food packaging
Most forms of cheese do contain a lot of sodium, though there are low sodium cheese products also available, which is why it pays to read the food packaging labels.
When you’re in the grocery store doing your weekly food shop, if you are consciously looking to cut back on the amount of sodium you consume, it pays to read the labels.
Here are several sodium-related terms you should familiarize yourself with when reading the packaging on your cheese and other food items.
Technically this isn’t true, as foods labelled as being sodium-free, still contain very small traces of sodium – typically less than 5mg per serving, and zero sodium chloride.
Foods labelled as being very low sodium will provide around 35mg or less or sodium per serving.
Low sodium foods and drinks provide 140mg or less sodium per serving.
If this is a sodium-reduced product, I.E sodium-reduced cheese, if it is labelled as ‘light’ it will be low calorie and low fat, and will have its overall sodium contents reduced by at least 50% for every serving.
Light in sodium
Finally, the last sodium-related term you should keep an eye out for is ‘light in sodium’. When something is labelled as ‘light in sodium’ it should have the sodium content reduced by at least 50%.
The thing to remember here is that sodium contents can vary depending on the brand and the manufacturer. If for example, one specific brand of low sodium cheese contains 120mg of sodium per serving, don’t assume that a different brand of low sodium cheese will also contain 120mg of sodium, as theirs may be 140mg per serving.
Which cheese has the lowest sodium?
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we can now produce a whole variety of different cheeses and can alter the natural sodium content accordingly.
With that said, some varieties of cheese are actually naturally lower in sodium than others.
If you’re making a conscious effort to limit the amount of sodium that you consume on a daily basis, but still want to enjoy cheese, some great varieties to choose from include:
- Swiss cheese
- Goat’s cheese
- Brick cheese
- Cream cheese
Which cheeses are low in fat and sodium?
When it comes to finding a low sodium cheese, you may also want to opt for a low-fat variety for health reasons.
Ordinarily, when it comes to calories in fresh mozzarella cheese for example, as this is a cheese commonly associated with pizza, it isn’t very low in fat. However, thanks to the advances in manufacturing processes, many mozzarella cheeses can now be reduced in fat quite drastically.
Alternatively, for a low-fat low sodium cheese, Goat’s cheese is also a great choice, especially if you opt for the reduced fat version.
What is the healthiest low-fat cheese?
Before we proceed any further, we need to ensure that we’re all clear regarding the health and nutritional properties associated with cheese. Yes, most cheeses are associated with junk food and are packed full of fat and high in sodium, but in moderation, studies have found that cheese consumption is not associated with risk of all-cause mortality.
Put simply, if consumed in moderation, cheese will not put your life in danger or pose any significant and potentially threatening health issues.
But what are some of the healthiest low-fat cheese varieties? Let’s find out, shall we?
Okay, it’s not super low in fat, but Swiss cheese isn’t particularly high in fat either, and as mentioned earlier, is also low in sodium.
This semi-hard cheese is made from cow’s milk and is a great source of calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12.
No list of healthy low-fat cheeses would be complete without cottage cheese.
Cottage cheese is rich in protein and is a favourite amongst bodybuilders and athletes looking to increase their muscle mass.
It is also rich in antioxidants, including selenium which can help reduce inflammation.
Despite its creamy texture, Goat’s cheese is not as high in fat as you might have thought. This is because it is naturally lower in lactose than other cheeses, making it lower in calories.
Before we go any further, Bleu cheese is generally higher in sodium than other cheeses, but because of its strong taste, a little goes a long way, so you don’t need very much.
Bleu cheese has a strong taste and is naturally higher in calcium than a lot of other varieties.
Finally, if you opt for a reduced fat variety, you won’t find many calories in fresh mozzarella cheese at all.
Furthermore, mozzarella is naturally lower in sodium than other varieties of cheese, whilst being packed full of bone-building calcium.
As you can see, despite the negative reputation associated with cheese and cheese snacks, if consumed in moderation, cheese is not only okay, it can also be beneficial.
If you choose wisely, monitor your fat intakes, and opt for a low sodium cheese, a little of this tasty dairy product will go a heck of a long way.